In some countries and some cultures, food and culture are inextricably linked. And in the case of today’s destination, go back millennia. I’m so excited to share some background on Israel & Jordan cuisine, and some of the amazing food we tried (and places we visited)!
I can’t even begin to show you all the amazing stuff we did during our seven days there. I’ve done a whole post here on our trip itinerary (that links to several other individual in-depth posts). Suffice to say, it was a complete bucket list trip—including actually ticking my #1 bucket list item off when we visited the Lost City of Petra.
But one thing I didn’t get to go into tons of detail about in my travel blog posts was Middle Eastern cuisine and all the delicious things we ate and drank in Israel and Jordan. And when I returned home, I immediately started incorporating aspects into my recipe experimentation.
The hallmarks of Israel & Jordan cuisine
There are tons of similarities in Israel’s cuisine and Jordan’s, and both have been shaped by thousands of years of history and cultural changes. But there are some differences as well.
Like most Middle Eastern cultures, both rely on staples such as hummus, some kind of flat bread, tahini (sesame seed paste, used in many different things like halva, hummus, and sauces), meat roasted on a spit and shaved off (shawarma), lots of fresh salads and mezze (dips), falafel and other chickpea-based foods, flatbreads, and hot tea that welcomes you everywhere. And you’ll find olive oil in and around everything. While there are small differences in how each culture prepares each of these dishes, they’re very recognizable siblings regardless.
Then each has specialties and unique offerings. In Jordan, their cuisine is especially adapted to cooking over campfires in the desert, due to the Bedouin roots. For instance, zarb is cooked in an oven submerged over a fire in the sand out in the deserts of Petra and Wadi Rum, and yields super tender meat and vegetables. You’ll see a lot more za’atar (made from sumac that grows wild in Jordan) and yogurt served alongside main dishes (similar to what I found in Turkey). And you’ll be offered hot tea with mint (sometimes sweetened) everywhere you go—Bedouin hospitality is legendary!
In Israel, shawarma, falafel, hummus, and pita are omnipresent, with tahini sauce coating everything. You’ll find more sweets like knafeh and baklava as well. Shaksuka (a spicy egg dish originating in North Africa) is also emblematic of Israeli cuisine. What’s interesting is how all of the Jewish people returning to Israel after World War II from places like Eastern Europe have impacted the overall cuisine—seen in the presence of dishes such as rugelach, babka, and sufganiot (jelly donuts for Hanukkah).